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With several different types of headaches, it can be difficult to understand the underlying cause of the pain. There are four types of primary headaches that many people experience:

  • Migraines
  • Tension-type Headaches
  • Cluster Headaches
  • Other Primary Headaches

Secondary causes of headaches will often include head or neck trauma and injuries, stroke, vascular malformations, and intracranial hemorrhage. While secondary causes are more extreme and affect your life in more than one way, primary headaches are ones you might experience more often. Let’s take a look at a few of the primary headaches:


Many people suffer from frequent migraines and may not even realize what the trigger is because the underlying cause of migraines remains unknown. Research demonstrates that genetic factors play a role in who develops migraine headaches, but hormone levels are also a factor. We also know that migraines are three times more common among women than men.
Additionally, while the cause of migraines is unknown, there are a number of triggers, which are thought to instigate a migraine attack. However, the strength and significance of the correlation with the triggers is uncertain. Some of the commonly reported triggers of migraines include hunger, stress and fatigue.

Tension-Type Headaches

Tension-type headaches are the most common type of primary headache and occur in about 30% -70% of the population. A tension-type headache occurs when muscles in the neck or head become tense, often as a response to stress, injury or activities that result in the head being held in a strenuous position for a prolonged period of time. Other possible triggers may include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Clenching of the jaw or teeth
  • Fatigue

It is important to understand what tension is causing your headache because it might help you prevent these headaches from occurring—or at least catch them in time for proper treatment before they worsen.

Cluster Headaches

Just like with migraines, the cause of cluster headaches is unknown. However, it is thought to be related to a sudden release of histamine or serotonin. This could be triggered by a number of factors including:

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • High Altitude
  • Heat
  • Exertion
  • Bright Light

Another theory is that an abnormality in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that regulates the biological clock, can cause cluster headaches. This theory is supported by the fact that episodic cluster headaches often occur at the same time each day.
The exact cause of most types of headaches is unknown, but patients with headaches might be able to attain some degree of relief through proper diagnosis and treatment. It is not uncommon that a patient suffering from cluster headaches treats it as a migraine headache due to improper self-diagnosis.

Groups At Risk for Headaches
Headaches commonly occur due to hundreds of different triggers. However, there are some factors that might put a person at a higher risk of experiencing headaches. For instance, as we stated previously, women are three times more likely than men to develop migraine headaches. Teenagers and adults who smoke, are sedentary, or are obese are also significantly more likely to experience migraines than those without all three lifestyle factors.
Generally, the following groups are at an increased risk of experiencing headaches:

  • Obese
  • Smokers
  • Excessive exercisers
  • Those who don’t get enough exercise
  • Excessive alcohol drinkers
  • Highly stressed individuals

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